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Curtis Crisler’s New Book “…Out-Schools Every School of American Poetry”

Curtis L. Crisler’s new book, “This” Ameri-Can-ah (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2016) “out-schools every school of American poetry.” That’s according to Jericho Brown, American Book Award Winner.

Indiana’s Poet Laureate George Kalamaras called Crisler “…the bone man, the heart man, the roaming coyote-man howling from the breath’s bowels.”

And the praises don’t stop there.

“Curtis L. Crisler has a humorist’s knack for off-kilter Rockwellian portraiture,” noted Douglas Kearney, National Poetry Series Award Winner.

By now, it’s obvious Crisler’s new collection is a knock out among these rising literary heavyweights. “This” Ameri-Can-ah launched yesterday.

Watch this video for Crisler’s take on his inspiration for this collection and the themes with which he’s working.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Announcements, Commercial, Feature

 

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Cherry Castle Publishing Trailer (Official)

If you haven’t heard of Cherry Castle Publishing, this press is a gem, where diverse voices flourish. It’s also an award-winning indie publisher.

I’m honored that Publisher/Co-Founder Truth Thomas, who’s also an award-winning poet, trusted his vision for the video with Humble Bear Production and Sojournals.

I want to thank the Cherry Castle Publishing fam, who got together on a chilly November morning for this shoot. (Shout out to White Room DC, where we recorded!)

Through prayer, this video resulted in much more than we could’ve imagined.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2016 in Commercial

 

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The Light Inside

jaz

for Jazmyn King (due date: Dec. 30, 2015)

You were a print of light pressed
into a waxy dark sheet. Your mom framed you
while I carried you in my wallet and phone.

I stood in your white room — the black window
trim and floor boards, the Espresso dresser and
crib watched me fold your onesies,

watched me contemplate the country of fatherhood,
where experience alone won’t grant you citizenship.

I hang the fluffy pink sleepsack, the doll-like plaid
dress, the white coverall and cap freckled with
green and blue Cockatoos.

Everything hangs, waiting for you to fill them
the way your mom and I waited for you

to fill her womb, we waited through the tears —
pacing and praying you’d be stronger than the ones before,
barely a glimmer when they dimmed.

Now, your mom’s a lamp, whose light comes
from your kicks and punches, from watching the star
in your chest flash on the ultrasound,
from your persistence to enter our life.

If there’s one thing waiting taught us
it’s that patience is the currency
of anything worth having.

So I rub your mom’s tummy to
feel your elbow, then your fist —
grateful for the light inside.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Poem

 

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What the PLUCK!

Here’s the rundown on this journal, according to the editorial team:

pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, takes its name from a Nikky Finney poem of the same title which appeared in RICE. The journal features poetry, prose, and visual art from writers who identify with multicultural experiences based in the Appalachian region.

The journal was founded by Frank X Walker and debuted in the Spring of 2007. pluck! is currently released twice a year through the University of Kentucky.

I got my issue, the Black Poets Speak Out edition (learn more about Black Poets Speak Out). It’s a blessing to have my poems in the company of so many amazing writers and thinkers.

Want your copy? $15/copy sent to pluck!

1215 POT, University of KY, Lexington KY 40506 | $30/subscription for individuals, $100/sub for institutions and organizations

Visit pluck! online.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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New Video for My Poem, “Conundrum” – DRIFT Book Trailer pt. 2

Here’s another trailer for my poetry collection, DRIFT (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2012).

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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DRIFT book trailer

Here’s a trailer for my debut collection of poems, DRIFT (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2012).

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Announcements

 

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All Aboard THE OVERGROUND Express!

A few weeks ago, I did a write up on The Overground Railroad (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2015), a powerhouse of an anthology.

It’s now available!

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Cherry Castle Publishing)

Read the write-up, then order YOUR copy today at Cherry Castle Publishing — where words grow mighty trees.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Poet on his Way to a Reading

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Sidwell Friends School) That’s me, right there!

Yesterday, I left work around 9:30am and hopped the red line to the Tenleytown Metro Station.

During my 13-minute walk, I took a deep breath and exhaled – praying that I don’t bore the students and that I don’t get caught off-guard with a question.

While the nervousness is normal for my school visits, that day’s session was a special one.

My friend and poet Hayes Davis invited me to speak to his class at Sidwell Friends, a prominent private school just north of D.C.

Chelsea Clinton and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Margaret Edson are among the highly-selective Quaker school’s notable alumni. It’s where Malia and Sasha Obama are currently enrolled.

So you know I wanted to make a good impression with it being National Poetry Month, the only time “the world,” as blogger Marie Basile put it, “recognizes our obsession with white space…”

How’d I do? Read the school’s write-up to find out.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Invisible Man in Iain Haley Pollock’s SPIT BACK A BOY

(ARTWORK: Krista Franklin)

Like Ralph Ellison’s narrator in Invisible Man, Iain Haley Pollock’s speaker in Spit Back A Boy is the invisible underdog. He’s a man torn between his “black mother’s blood”[1] and his white father. And, like Ellison’s invisible narrator, Pollack’s speaker battles the stereotypes that make him invisible since he’s not seen as a real person. This journey to identity is an involved one through which Pollack’s speaker revisits the middle passage[2] and Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath[3]. Along the way he encounters an orisha[4] while roaming Philly’s mean streets[5].

The speaker’s longing for home is analogous to the enslaved Igbo’s longing for home in the poem “Port of Origin: Lancaster,” a poem about the middle passage. About 15 percent, or nearly two million, Africans died while being transported from African countries to Europe, Brazil and the U.S. as part of the Atlantic slave trade, according to various sources. Pollack’s speaker in “Port of Origin: Lancaster” remembers what he read about the suicides from slaves throwing themselves overboard that contributed to the high mortality rates:

When salt swallowed breath,

Igbo souls leapt from the water

as great sea eagles. Talons gripped

black bodies as a she-bear lifts

her cub by the scruff. Wings

throbbed air until all passed back

to Igboland.[6]

And just as striking as those physical details are the psychological ones:

[…] I knew this,

knew before I heard

the stories, read the books,

knew from the whispering

of my black mother’s blood

into my marrow. Knew also

the mocking tap of rain

on the hull christened

in my white father’s city.[7]

Ralph Ellison — an American novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer — was best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953.

The physical details intensifies the speaker’s longing for identity. That “my black mother’s blood” whispered that history “into my marrow” before “I heard/ the stories, read the books” is the speaker’s allusion to ancestral memory, which also heightens his longing for identity. However, the speaker’s white father complicates that longing. That the “rain/ on the hull christened/ in my white father’s city” is a “mocking tap” means the speaker’s aware of how African Americans see his father’s white skin as a reminder of that history.

The musical moments in “Port of Origin: Lancaster” are in the recurring “creaked”:

creaked. Creaked and creaked.

All night, creaked. All day

that was night, creaked.

Over dull slap of waves

on brine-soaked wood, creaked.

[…] creaked. Creaked and creaked

In the hollow chamber of aboy’s ear—

creaked, timbers creaked.[8]

(PHOTO: first-draft-blog.typepad.com)

The onomatopoeia brought me inside the slave ship. I could feel it rocking from the “dull slap of waves.” I heard the “groans from hunger” and smelled the “foul air.” That this creaking echoes “in the hollow chamber of a boy’s ear” is a sign of the longing for identity echoing “in the hollow chamber” of his ear.

That music continues in the poem “Chorus of X, the Rescuer’s Mark.” The poem’s “X” references the FEMA markings left on houses in New Orleans searched after Hurricane Katrina. The X distinguished the searched houses from others, and the markings in each X quadrant let rescuers know which houses had dead bodies, the date of the search and who did the searching. The music in “Chorus of X” is in the recurring X’s:

X say search party […]

X say live wire […]

X say no dead bodies,

[…] X say kitchen, […]

X say that dog was a loud-ass, mean-ass bitch anyway,

[…] X say Lord you been flooding us too much,

[…] X say it got easier to die in water than live on land,

[…] X say lungs full of flood in the end […][9]

Pollack’s X is also analogous to Ralph Ellison’s narrator in Invisible Man. Though X says a lot of things, it remains unnamed. Pollack’s speaker in “Chorus of X” also sheds light on a social issue with which America still struggles. Pollack’s speaker and use of X transforms the symbol into an inhumane image (“X say that dog was a loud-ass, mean-ass bitch anyway”). That X’s four quadrants sums up any person’s life is a sign of the little regard we hold for human life. In “Chorus of X,” X is just as inhumane as calling New Orleans residents “refugees,” as if they weren’t citizens of a country touting its liberty and justice.

(PHOTO: blackagendareport.com)

Another musical moment is the recurring “say”:

[…] say month,

say day, […]

say gas leak, say floodwater,

say dead dog, dead cat,

[…] say one dead body, say two,

say three dead bodies, say four,

[…] say bedroom, say attic[10]

And so on. Both the recurring “X” and “say” intensifies the urgency of the situation. They almost overwhelm the poem the way flood waters overwhelmed rescuers in the gulf coast.

Going back to identity, Pollack’s speaker mirrors Ellison’s narrator another way. Like Ellison’s invisible narrator, Pollack’s speaker is mistaken for a white man when he encounters a modern-day orisha of change in the poem “Oya in Old City.” The mistake happens twice: once by “the red-bone woman/ wearing two coats and sitting on a bench” who yells, “i ain’t Nigga Mary” in response to the speaker’s “how are you?[11] And again in a flashback of a childhood trip to Philadelphia when a homeless woman sees him staring and says, “take a motherfuckin picture     aint you never/ seen a nigga.”[12]

The speaker’s childhood image of Philly transforms in the poem “Killadelphia.” In the poem, it’s not so much the human actions within as it is the speaker’s grim portrait of Philly. Here are the physical details:

where pit bull

bitches—three,

chained, starved—

lurch scarred

throats into yowls

[…] molded lids

ticking open

and shut

over glazed

unreal eyes[13]

(PHOTO: Rachel Eliza Griffiths) Iain Haley Pollock lives in Philadelphia and teaches at Springside Chesnut Hill Academy, where he is the Cyrus H. Nathan ’30 Distinguished Faculty Chair for English. His first collection of poems, Spit Back a Boy (University of Georgia, 2011), won the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.

Those details make Philly a city that scowls at outsiders. “Killadelphia” is an audible poem sprinkled throughout with onomatopoeias such as “poppa pop-pop pop” of gunshots and the “slap-clap” of “sneaker soles […]/ on asphalt” and daybreak’s “rumble-grumble” along with the “smack-/thwacking” newsprint and the “skittery-skitter/ of boys.”[14]

While the speaker’s tone ranged from sad to cynical to candid in the earlier poems, his scatting in “Killadelphia” makes his tone both playful and critical. The scat becomes background music amid the “security gates/ flung up in rickety-/ racket at Mt. Zion’s/ store front worship” and the “raccoon’s crash-/ dash as it drags/ a near-dead pigeon/ from a rust-pitted/ trash can” and the “fluttery-stutter/ of the bird’s one good wing/ flapping to lift/ its carcass into/ still-darksome dawn.”

And that’s as far as the similarities go between Iain Haley Pollack’s speaker in Spit Back A Boy and the narrator in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Up to this point, the similarities between both men echoed Oscar Wilde’s quote: “Most people are other people…their lives a mimicry.”[15]  But, unlike Ellison’s narrator who eventually embraces his invisibility, Pollack’s speaker continues his ongoing journey to find himself.

Going back to the poem “Oya in Old City,” Pollack’s encounter with the angry homeless woman (“take a motherfuckin picture     aint you never/ seen a nigga”) makes it clear which side of his biracial self the speaker’s leaning towards in terms of identity. It’s evident in his response to the homeless woman: “I flung my almost-white self/ into my mother’s embrace—that brown/ embrace I hoped would swallow me whole and spit back a boy four shades darker.”


[1] from the poem “Port of Origin: Lancaster”

[2] Ibid.

[3] from the poem “Chorus of X, the Rescuers’ Mark

[4] from the poem “Oya in Old City”

[5] from the poem “Killadelphia”

[6] Iain Haley Pollock, Spit Back A Boy, Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2011, 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 2-3.

[9] Ibid., 8-9.

[10] Ibid., 8.

[11] Ibid., 18.

[12] Ibid., 19.

[13] Ibid., 22.

[14] Ibid., 22-23.

[15] Oscar Wilde, Quotes About Identity, 2011, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/identity (September 2011).

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Essay

 

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Willow Books, The Motown Records of Book Publishing

willow books

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Willow Books)

Started in 2007, Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press, is still in its childhood. Yet the six-year-old Detroit-based press is rapidly becoming the Motown Records of book publishing.

As America’s top Black-owned and operated record company and business, Motown Records signified a new day. The cultural icon’s chart-topping singles and often-imitated sound embodied the struggle for progress and optimism of a long-dispirited people.

Under owner/publisher Heather Buchanan-Gueringer’s direction, Willow Books’ mission is no different. The press develops, publishes and promotes underrepresented writers.

If a publisher’s personal triumphs show a press’s future successes, then I’m confident Willow Books will thrive as a luminary on the literary landscape. Heather Buchanan-Gueringer, an award-winning publisher-editor-arts consultant, is a former State Officer for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and a past Vice-President of the Great Lakes Independent Publishers Association and American Business Women’s Association (Ambassador Tri-County Chapter).

A past COO of the Wayne County Council for Arts, History & Humanities, Buchanan-Gueringer founded Aquarius Press in 1999 and continues to publish top talent from across the nation, many through the Willow Books literary imprint.

The press cut its teeth through partnerships with universities and literary organizations such as the National Book Foundation, Poets & Writers, Cave Canem Foundation, Inc., Poets House, Springfed Arts, Wayne State University, Chicago State University and the University of New Haven, among others. The press also hosts conferences such as the Idlewild Writers Conference and the LitFest Spring Retreat, and regularly exhibits at Associated Writing Program’s (AWP) Annual Conference.

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

Willow Books’ mission of developing underrepresented writers stemmed from Buchanan-Gueringer’s service as a past executive director of the Detroit Writers’ Guild. She continues the literary imprint’s mission as an adjunct professor, most recently teaching at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the College for Creative Studies.

As an arts consultant, Buchanan-Gueringer served on the planning committee for what is now the Virgil Carr Cultural Arts Center. She also founded the Metro Detroit Performing Arts Center. Buchanan-Gueringer, a musician as well, serves on the board of the Orchard Lake Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to Buchanan-Gueringer, Willow Books is blessed to have award-winning writer Randall Horton, PhD., as its poetry editor. Horton’s honors include the Bea González Prize for Poetry, the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Cave Canem.

Also on Willow Books’ staff are poet/photographer Jerriod Avant (editorial assistant) and award-winning poet Curtis Crisler (contributing poetry editor). I’d say, with that staff and their credentials, Willow Books is in good hands.

I’m honored to be among its word crooners such as Makalani Bandele, Krista Franklin, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Derrick Harriell. The six-year-old press lost its baby teeth with its word warriors such as Kelly Norman Ellis, Tara Betts, and Tony Medina. (You’ll find Willow Books’ complete line-up on its authors’ page.)

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

The unsurpassed excellence and sophistication the musicians and singers brought to Motown Records lives on in the works and accomplishments of Willow Books’ award-winning authors, many of which are professors with advanced degrees.

The fairly young literary imprint flexed its new muscles with the Literature Awards, Open Reading Period, and Emerging Writer Chapbook Series. This Saturday, Willow Books will flex those same muscles with its 2nd Annual LitFest, a mini conference/retreat with readings, book fair, networking and workshops.

In partnership with the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University, this year’s LitFest will include manuscript sessions, a panel discussion, public readings, and an open mic. It will also feature Willow Books Literature Awards Finalists’ Reading and Awards Ceremony, where the press will announce its poetry and prose winners. (Download the brochure here)

Most events are free and open to the public but require registration. (Download and complete the LitFest Registration Form). For more info, please visit Willow Books LitFest. You can also keep up with the press by liking the Willow Books Group Page.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Announcements

 

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